The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

You don't have to be a super-spy to know this

I found myself actually shocked at one piece of testimony in yesterday's impeachment hearing:

A U.S. ambassador’s cellphone call to President Trump from a restaurant in the capital of Ukraine this summer was a stunning breach of security, exposing the conversation to surveillance by foreign intelligence services, including Russia’s, former U.S. officials said.

The call — in which Trump’s remarks were overheard by a U.S. Embassy staffer in Kyiv — was disclosed Wednesday by the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, William B. Taylor Jr.

“The security ramifications are insane — using an open cellphone to communicate with the president of the United States,” said Larry Pfeiffer, a former senior director of the White House Situation Room and a former chief of staff to the CIA director. “In a country that is so wired with Russian intelligence, you can almost take it to the bank that the Russians were listening in on the call.”

Republicans, who used to bang the drum on security issues so loudly you could barely make out the words they were actually saying, do not seem to have noticed this event. Which shocks me even more.

Defending the indefensible

Benjamin Wittes, writing for Lawfare, points out that Alexander Hamilton predicted exactly how an impeachment would bring partisan differences into even sharper relief than ordinary politics. So Republicans in Congress have to change the subject:

Yes, Trump’s approval numbers show there are cracks in the wall, as every pundit is busily pointing out. But the larger point, it seems to me, is that there is still a wall. And as Hamilton argued, it is the comparative strength of that wall, not any demonstration of Trump’s innocence or guilt, that will regulate the decision as to the president’s fate. The president’s defense, in other words, has been reduced to raw political power; it is not a genuine examination of facts but rather a numbers game to assemble enough elected officials aligned with the president’s faction to refuse to look reality in the eye and thus to ensure Trump’s acquittal.

Of course, no senators or members of the House of Representatives can say this outright. Despite this era of shredded norms and broken taboos, it is still verboten to state what is so obviously true: “I refuse to support Trump’s impeachment because, however merited it may be, I am a Republican and he is a Republican and the advantage of my party would be ill-served by his removal—which might also threaten my own prospects of reelection, which depend on voters who like the president more than they like me.”

There just isn’t any good argument for Trump at this stage. So what is a poor Republican member of Congress or senator, animated by Federalist 65 but unable to admit it, to do?

Their answer is to make noise.

In other words, get ready for a lot more sound and fury, signifying nothing, from the Republican caucus.

Three quick links

First, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who appears entirely too deeply integrated in the President's impeachable offenses to get out without an indictment, and who also owns what he calls a "security consulting service," butt-dialed an NBC reporter. Twice. And the resulting voicemails were...interesting.

Second, how exactly did Justice Brett Kavanaugh pay for his house in 2006? He seems to have gotten almost $250,000 from some undisclosed source.

Finally, the City of Chicago will raise taxes on ride-shares because they cost the city a lot of money. A new report shows that Uber and Lyft have significantly raised traffic levels and delayed buses since their arrival in 2014.

Happy Friday!

Things to think about while running a 31-minute calculation

While my work computer chews through slightly more than a million calculations in a unit test (which I don't run in CI, in case you (a) were wondering and (b) know what that means), I have a moment to catch up:

The first 30-minute calculation is done, and now I'm on to the second one. Then I can resume writing software instead of testing it.

The sack of Kurdistan

Could President Trump be not only a very stable genius, but a strategic one as well, for pulling American troops out of Syria ? I mean, given the obvious consequences of our pull-out (i.e., Russia and Turkey carving up Kurdistan), the alternative explanation is that the Situation Room this week looked a lot like Sir Bedevere explaining to King Arthur how the wooden rabbit trick would work.

Maybe his 71-minute oration at his cabinet meeting yesterday could give us more information about his state of mind and battlefield thinking:

“We have a good relationship with the Kurds. But we never agreed to, you know, protect the Kurds. We fought with them for 3½ to four years. We never agreed to protect the Kurds for the rest of their lives.”

Trump misleadingly frames the agreement as the “rest of their lives.” But the United States had certainly made a deal with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which lost 11,000 soldiers in defeating the Islamic State, after being trained and equipped by the United States. (Turkey considers elements of this force to be a terrorist threat.) To prevent a Turkish invasion, the United States persuaded the SDF to pull back up to nine miles from the Turkish border. In August, the SDF destroyed its own military posts after assurances the United States would not let thousands of Turkish troops invade. But then Trump tossed that aside.

“I don’t think you people, with this phony emoluments clause — and by the way, I would say that it’s cost me anywhere from $2 billion to $5 billion to be president — and that’s okay — between what I lose and what I could have made.”

The emoluments clause is not phony; it’s right in the Constitution (Article I, Section 9, Paragraph 8): “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

Trump’s net worth is valued at $3 billion, so it’s difficult to see how being president could cost him even more than his net worth. Bloomberg News recently estimated that his net worth grew 5 percent in 2018, following two years of declines, bringing it back to the level calculated in 2016. Forbes calculated that as of September, his net worth is $3.1 billion.

So, my conclusion, based on this tiny bit of evidence (and the years of evidence that came before) is that the president is a narcissistic idiot. Why are we still talking about impeachment when the 25th Amendment makes more sense? Oh, right. The Republican Party.

What's happening today?

Not too much:

And two algorithms I'm testing that should produce similar results are not. So back to the coding window I go.

Nice legislature you've got there. Shame if something happened to it

President Trump has told Congress that he doesn't believe they have any right to investigate him or any other part of the executive branch. This, ah, innovative view of the Constitution has garnered some criticism from just about everyone:

Legal experts have already torpedoed the absurd idea that the White House gets to declare the House’s impeachment inquiry illegitimate. The Constitution grants the House “sole power of impeachment,” and the chambers set their own rules. The White House claims the House must hold a full vote to render the inquiry operative, but this is simply baseless.

But, putting aside the fact that Trump’s demands were based on nonsense, what’s notable here is that the White House’s official position is that the conduct itself, that is, Trump’s act of pressing Zelensky to do these things, is perfectly okay.

Jennifer Rubin says this merely delays the inevitable:

The problem with this tactic, obvious to those outside the Trump cult, is that it is hard to imagine the House forgoing impeachment, unless of course Trump resigns before it can. Furthermore, while the House is free to pursue contempt proceedings against Sondland and other non-cooperating witnesses, it does not have to hold up impeachment proceedings. There is nothing wrong with moving forward with multiple articles, including one on obstruction, while also seeking enforcement of a contempt proceeding against current or former officials who refuse to appear or provide documents.

In short, there is more than enough evidence already and more than enough public support as we speak for the House to move to impeachment right now. To the extent over the next few weeks that it can gain further incriminating material or reveals incriminating material it possesses, the House will only bolster its case. However, nothing we have seen in the underlying evidence or the polling suggests any reason not to proceed to impeachment.

By fighting against the inevitable, acting more illogical and unhinged than usual and refusing to give Senate Republicans reason to support him, his current strategy only makes it easier for more Senate Republicans to break with him in a trial for removal. His flailing just heightens the perception among voters that one way or another, this guy has to go.

But let's not get complacent. With enough support from part of the legislature, or from the judiciary should it come to that, the Constitutional order of each branch policing the other two could fall apart. The Republican Party has long sought a (Republican) unitary executive that rules over the other two branches.

Trump, mostly for personal reasons as I don't believe he has any concept of the US Constitution nor has he read the document, is pushing for this goal harder than any president in history. I include Lincoln, by the way. Lincoln tried very hard to ensure that his decisions would pass Constitutional challenges after the Civil War, and he succeeded.

We should be thankful, then, that the instrument of the Republican Party's headlong push into authoritarian government turns out to have no clue how to do it, and undermines both himself and the Party every time he Tweets.

It's still horrifying to watch. And we still have 390 days until the next election.

Pausing from parsing

My task this afternoon is to parse a pile of random text that has, shall we say, inconsistencies. Before I return to that task, I'm setting aside some stuff to read later on:

And finally, Crain's reviews five relatively-new steakhouses in Chicago. Since we probably won't eat steak past about 2030, these may be worth checking out sooner rather than later.

Pile-up on the Link Highway

I was busy today, and apparently so was everyone else:

I'm sure there was other news today. But this is what I have open in my browser for reading later on.

Our president is bonkers

Apparently the impeachment inquiry now underway in the House has gotten to the president, as yet another world leader had to witness involuntarily:

An awkward handshake is really the least of their worries.

As President Trump continues to rage against impeachment — and the Democrats and whistle-blower he holds responsible for bringing it about — visiting world leaders are encountering a different kind of diplomatic mission.

It includes a welcome ceremony, a meeting with Mr. Trump and an invitation to sit stone-faced for an indeterminate amount of time on live television as the president accuses people of treason, lies and corruption. And sometimes the session is reprised a little later in a formal news conference.

That was what happened on Wednesday when President Sauli Niinisto of Finland became the latest foreign leader to strike a straight-lipped contrast to Mr. Trump as Mr. Trump defended himself and attacked his adversaries. Not once but twice.

The Post's Alexandra Petri imagines the feedback form President Niinisto filled out on his way out the door:

Please rate your visit on a scale from 1 to 5 stars.

3 stars

What were some highlights of your stay?

I enjoyed the museums very much. I visited several, and they were all well lit, clean and informative. I liked that they were free, just like the population is under democracy.

I do not think that either of those things should change. If possible, keep both aspects.

Do you have any feedback as to how your stay could be improved?

Well, I have to say, I would perhaps have done certain things slightly differently. For instance, it was clear that President Trump had many things he wanted to get off his chest, primarily about someone named Adam Schiff, but also about the governor of California? I found this unseemly emotional outburst off-putting.

Guardian correspondent David Smith opined "it was also just downright strange, even avant-garde. It was Samuel Beckett. It was Marcel Duchamp. It was John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s bed-in. Trump invited Niinistö to take a front row seat in his theatre of the absurd."

What do you do when your president has lost his mind?